Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sacrificing privacy for... ugh

Topic - To what degree should US citizens and non US citizens have to give up privacy in the name of national security? Should US citizens be treated differently than non-US citizens? What factors, if any, influence this decision, tipping the scale to allow for less privacy in favor of national security?

Right off the bat, I would like to point out how incredibly subjective this topic is. The balance of personal liberty, especially privacy, versus state security is a constantly debated point in academic circles, political circles, and policy discussions.

What is privacy anyway? If we cannot define it, how can we discuss giving it up. If CNN was to run a story showing the outside of a house, with pictures, and revealing the full name and address pulled from the white pages, some people would call it an invasion of privacy. Pranevičienė (2011) reported numerous definitions of privacy:

  • "Privacy is not simply an absence of information about us in the minds of others, rather it is the control we have over information about ourselves"
  • "Privacy is the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about them is communicated to others"
  • "Privacy is a sweeping concept, encompassing (among other things) freedom of thought, control over one‘s body, solitude in one's home, control over personal information, freedom from surveillance, protection of one's reputation and it protection from searches and interrogations"
Given such sweeping definitions, basically anyone learning anything about you from anyone could be a violation of privacy. Such privacy is not defensible for citizens or non-citizens.

Concerning the easier to define privacy, the contents of our communications, there needs to be a refined focus to actionability of privacy violations. Privacy of communications with regard to law enforcement action is absolutely vital, and cannot be sacrificed for security. Citizens and non-citizens need to have freedom from every word they say or write to be potential evidence or circumstantial evidence.

Nonactionable privacy violations have no need to be protected. People do not fear pointless chit chat from being overheard in malls, precisely because the intercepted information is nonactionable. If collection for intelligence purposes was strictly nonactionable with regards to the target, then privacy would not need to be balanced against national security. The overlap of, or at least fear of, actionable law enforcement intercept with intelligence generation is what necessitates the balance.


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